Let’s travel somewhere exotic! Many love the idea of exotic places, but fear the unknown. How do I even begin to plan a trip like this? Before you pay big bucks to be stuck with a large travel group (or even bigger bucks to get a private tour!) where you don’t get to do and see everything YOU want, I want to share some basics of travelling. This is how we planned our trip to Sri Lanka- and you’re welcome to copy our itinerary if you like, or use the tips in this article to create your own! Planning your OWN trip can give you a lot of satisfaction, and you end up enjoying the places more because YOU found out about them rather than having someone show you.
Research the land and mix it up!
When we googled Sri Lanka , the main things that popped up were: buddhist temples, beaches, tea plantations and wildlife (elephants, whales, monkeys). So I knew we had to make an itinerary with at least 4 stops to see one of each. This was not a thorough research that took me months, just a simple quick google search to see what the main highlights were. After that, we chose what we were mostly interested in. Some people would get a resort and spend their whole time there, but this way you get a very limited taste of a country. We knew we didn’t want a whole trip of just relax, but also not a strenuous trip with miles worth of hiking everyday that leaves you needing a vacation upon your return. I find that the best trips have a little bit of everything: some city sightseeing, some nature, and some beach time.
So knowing we wanted to do a bit of each of these, the itinerary looked something like this :
Ramboda Falls (nature, hiking, tea plantations)
Trincomalee-Pidegon Island (beach, snorkeling, whale watching)
Sigiriya (famous monument, elephant safari)
How to get from one place to the other , we would figure out upon arrival by asking the locals, as the internet provided little information on trains and we wanted to see for ourselves what seemed safe and convenient.
City sightseeing gives you an idea of the architecture, food, monuments and shopping in a country. We got to do this in Colombo and Kandy. They’re very different cities. Colombo has a more metropolitan vibe, while Kandy, set up on a lake, has a more laid back, Buddhist vibe (wasn’t sure how else to explain it ;)) . When you arrive, you quickly see tuk-tuks everywhere. They’re a great way to get around the city for very cheap. Always haggle, as the locals pay a tenth of what they tell you for these rides. When in Colombo, we researched the main sights as well as asked the locals what they recommended we see. Sri Lankans are so sweet and most speak English. I have to say I felt very safe the entire trip and never threatened in any way. As far as restaurants , the Galle Face and Colombo Fort area had delicious options. The crab curry is a big specialty, and super good. Some architecturally amazing sights include the Red Mosque and the Gangaramaya Temple.
From Colombo, there is a train station to take you to Kandy. The train ride is stunning as you go up thousands of feet to the mountainous Kandy region. I must say this was one of my favorite sights. You find yourself staring out the window into deep deep jungle.
In Kandy, you can enjoy a stroll around the lake, a night show with Kandian dancing, the temple of the Tooth and the amazing Royal Botanical Gardens. These were the lushest gardens I had ever seen, and we saw many monkeys and giant bats flying over head!
Pinnawala is a famous elephant orphanage nearby where you can see baby elephants bathing, We even got to feed some! Others were able to give a bath to the elephants. Amazing experience!
Now we were ready for our nature part. I again talked to some locals who pointed us to the amazing tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya and the Ramboda waterfalls on the way there. As there was no train, we hired a driver to go there. How did we find him? It was one of the tuk tuk drivers in Kandy who told us he had a van! I’m usually a fan of roughing it and going with the cheapest options, riding buses with chickens on my lap, but you have to be smart. A private driver there is cheap, so that when you split the cost with the other passengers, it costs just a little more per person than a bus would. You get to places much quicker and get back to the hotel not feeling exhausted. And being that the driver is a local, he can make many cool stops and be your guide for the day. So for $15 we had a tour guide and a car all day. Anyway, the drive was again stunning as we drove higher and higher, and there was a museum of tea on the way, called Tea Bush Ramboda-Oakray Hotel where besides tasting delicious tea you have the most ridiculous view ever of tea plantations, not one but THREE waterfalls, a lake and a super green valley. It takes a while to take it all in.
The hike up the Ramboda falls is easy as far as the path goes -you cannot get lost, there are steps going only in one direction- but it’s very wild with thick vegetation all up in your face. The reward of course is worth all the effort, when you get to the top of the beautiful falls.
We chose Trincomalee because we read that that coast had the mildest weather in July, so we wouldn’t have big waves like in Mirissa, since we wanted to snorkel. Pidgeon Island is just off the coast and offers amazing snorkeling. A little boat takes you from Nilaveli beach and the colors of the fish and corals are stunning. It’s family friendly as the water is very shallow and you do not need to go far at all to see sea turtles and even baby reef sharks. There, we stayed in the most amazing hotel I’ve ever seen in my life (this was the one 5 star hotel we picked for a couple nights… still only around $80, I highly recommend it) called Anilana Nilaveli. It’s right on the beach with beautiful pools, giants rooms and an elegant restaurant, but completely surrounded by jungle. All we heard at night were monkeys and birds. It was surreal (I used a mosquito spray daily and had no problems with bugs).
Our last stop was Sigiriya, which to me looked like a smaller Machu Pichu! Really amazing fort built on a giant rock- 1500 steps to the top, but again, so totally worth it! The scary part here were the giant wasp nests on top. Many signs warned us to be quiet as to not wake the bees, Yikes! In Sigiriya we stayed at the Cassandra Resort. This one was also immersed in nature and it was family run, so the workers were so incredibly warm and sweet.
These were the main highlights of our trip. Sri Lanka really is the jewel of the Indian Ocean! A beautiful land full of colors, spices, music and dancing, tea, wildlife, and history. Well actually , these faces might just be the real highlight 🙂 Sri Lankans say they invented the smile. I believe it!
When you plan your trip, how do you like to do it?